Cricket: Australians avoid a minor mishap: Cockbain top scorer against tourists

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Australians. . . . . . . . . . . . . .230

Minor Counties . . . . . . . . . . . .172

Australians win by 58 runs

IN THE end, it was not unlike the final day of the third Test. Australia, struggling at 98 for 6 in the morning sun, allowed the Minor Counties a tantalising glimpse of a famous victory under ever-darkening skies at Stone, before easing home with something to spare as the rain came down.

Yet while the Minor Counties could not repeat last year's success against Pakistan, they had the consolation of being the first side to bowl out the Australians in eight one-day contests this summer. Their satisfaction was compounded when their captain, Cheshire's Ian Cockbain, finished as the game's top scorer with 70, which included a six and eight fours.

For Australia, who move on to meet Ireland in Dublin, a glorified practice match provided a useful showcase for Paul Reiffel, the gangling Victorian pace bowler, and Tim Zoehrer, the reserve wicketkeeper. Reiffel finished with 5 for 28 as the Minor Counties faded away, and Zoehrer claimed six victims.

The betting shop on the ground was offering 14-1 against Australia scoring 200 runs in the 135 minutes before lunch, and an envoy was reportedly sent to put on wagers. In the event they reached only 137 for 6 in the first session - a vast improvement, nevertheless, on their position half an hour earlier. At that stage, Australia's score bore a marked resemblance to their 93 for 5 at Nottingham.

However, much as Steve Waugh and Brendon Julian had saved the day on that occasion, the Australians found in Mark Taylor and Reiffel a partnership of 61 to steer them to respectability. Taylor, the acting captain, dropped down to No 5 but found himself facing up as early as the 11th over.

The procession of colleagues towards the pavilion meant Taylor felt obliged to curb his attacking instincts, and only five of the 55 overs remained when he was eighth out soon after reaching his half-century. In entertaining contrast, Reiffel struck six fours in compiling 50 not out in 57 balls.

His enterprise, and that of Julian (31 from 33 balls), shamed some of the front-line batsmen. Michael Slater, with 884 first- class runs on the tour, made only a single before falling leg before to Paul Newman, Staffordshire's former Derbyshire quick bowler. Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn both fell to agile catches by Mark Humphries, the host county's wicketkeeper, leaving Australia on 37 for 3.

After hoisting a huge six off Rupert Evans, which caused alarm among motorists on the Lichfield Road, Waugh swung carelessly across the line of the off-spinner's next delivery and was bowled: 77 for 4.

Ian Healy was fifth out on 97 and when Zoehrer went with the addition of one run, discarded betting slips doubtless littered the visitors' dressing-room. The Minor Counties could not sustain the pressure, even allowing Wayne Holdsworth his first runs of the tour to ironic applause.

Holdsworth and Reiffel made short work of the Minor Counties' top order. Steve Dean, the Staffordshire opener, dispatched the second ball of the first over to the boundary but had his stumps wrecked by Holdsworth from the third. The same bowler soon had Nick Adams caught behind for 11, while Zoehrer also snapped Nick Gaywood (14) and Mark Davies for a duck off Reiffel, putting the hosts in trouble on 47 for 4.

The first five overs produced 36 runs, but another 10 had passed before the 50 was posted. Bad light and drizzle hardly helped the Minor Counties' cause, although Cockbain's stylish innings and the sight of Humphries taking Shane Warne for three successive fours warmed the crowd before Reiffel mopped up the tail.

Scoreboard, page 35

NatWest Trophy draw, page 34